Otranto Cathedral, Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata (Saint Mary of the Annunciation) is impressive even before you enter…Completed in the 12th century, the splendid Baroque portal and rose window are the perfect introduction to its magnificent interior.
Perhaps the largest mosaic in Europe, its world famous floor extends the entire length of the nave, sanctuary and apse. A monk by the name of Pantaleone was commissioned in the 12th century and, leading a group of artists, together they created and completed this entire mosaic floor in only two years. Truly a remarkable achievement!
Comprised of over 600,000 tesserae (tiles), this unique creation, with a trunk that runs up the middle of the nave floor, is called the “tree of life”. The mosaic includes a fantastic representation of scenes from the Old Testament as well as everything from biblical figures (from Adam and Eve to Noah’s Ark to the last judgment) to Alexander the Great and King Arthur.
With its intricate and elaborate combination of Norman, Greek, Byzantine and mythological designs, animals and symbols as well as cycles of the seasons and the zodiac, it holds many secrets which remain the object of speculation and study.
Always at risk of invasion from the Ottoman Empire, in 1480, despite taking refuge in the cathedral, citizens were killed when Ottoman troops broke through. During the siege 800 locals were massacred. The frescoes of the church were destroyed but fortunately the magnificent mosaic floor was spared.
In 1481, Otranto was retaken and the cathedral restored and rebuilt to house the relics of the Martyrs of Otranto in the reliquary chapel.
The sheer scope of the floor as well as the reliquary chapel and crypt, all testimonies to the human spirit, inspire a reverential ambience.
Note: If you plan to visit, be sure to check visitation hours so as not to be disappointed.
Better yet, join me in Puglia and we’ll visit Otranto’s magnificent cathedral as well as so many of the other iconic places in Puglia…together!
When is our next trip? In the beautiful season of spring! Mark your calendars!